I don’t know about you, but I am sick of poor sportsmanship. I am really tired of all the players in different sports who don’t adhere to the motto, “It’s not if you win or lose but how you play the game.” Sadly, in today’s climate of sports becoming more and more like a business instead of it being purely a well-played game, the unsportsman-like conduct of players is overlooked in favor of the big bucks they generate.
When I look at sports players today, I see some good guys like Derek Jeter and David Wright, but then we get a story like the one about how some of the NY Jets players harassed a female reporter, and it seems like the good guys are an exception to the rule. There are more guys like Ben Roethlisberger and Plaxico Burress in the news than not. How sad for sports and all the kids who are watching.
That is why the story of Rafael Nadal is such a great one. While there are already people talking about him being the greatest player of all time, or being the biggest money-making brand in sports, the thing about Nadal is that he is the ultimate good sportsman. He is a genuinely nice fellow, just 24 years old, but he has a wisdom way beyond his years. He also carries himself like a gentleman, and that is a thing sorely lacking in sports for the most part.
Make no mistake, on the court he is a cunning and powerful opponent. No matter how much he likes Roger Federer, he knows how to take him apart and win a match. Nadal takes no prisoners, and that is as commendable as is his off the court behavior. Still, when the playing part is done, Nadal talks the talk of a good sport.
After winning the U.S. Open, Nadal was asked if he was now the greatest player in the game. It was one of those qualifying moments, those eerie silent seconds when the water dripping in the bathroom sounds like a geyser, but Nadal was ready with the perfect answer. He said that he had a long way to go for that, a long way to be as good as Roger Federer. There was applause, and his friend Federer smiled graciously on the sidelines. It was an ultimate sports moment handled with aplomb by Nadal. This is indeed what good sportsmanship is all about.
Long ago I had a baseball coach who said, “It easy to be a good sport, a good loser; the hardest thing to be is a good winner.” Although I have forgotten that coach’s name I have never forgotten those words. Never.
It is a shame that tennis is not a more kid-friendly sport. I wish more kids watched it because they would see in Rafael Nadal someone who is a good role model. He is a really great player, perhaps the greatest ever in his sport, but what makes him stand out is his ability to be a good winner.
These days to be gracious and humble in defeat is always a good thing, but to be so in victory elevates one to a higher level, a nobility that is truly fitting in the concept of good sportsmanship. After the U.S. Open Rafael Nadal proved that, even though he is the King of Tennis, he has the common touch. It would be a good idea for people involved in all other sports to take a page from his book.